There’s a tremendous amount of materials development taking place now to protect and improve the performance of the modern solider. One of the materials being actively investigated isn’t new at all, however. It’s wool—the same material used by the Army of the Potomac in the 1860s. The Marine Corps temporarily banned the wearing of synthetic materials by combat troops after soldiers sustained serious burns from clothing that burned, and sometimes melted, fusing to skin. Short-term, soldiers shifted to all-aramid clothing, an expensive and uncomfortable solution. The Army Soldier Systems Center has been developing a family of woolen, flame-resistant woven and knitted fabrics to replace polyester and nylon. The American Sheep Industry Association and the American Wool Council developed two knit fabrics and one woven fabric that are flame retardant. The US Army is current considering a fabric that is a blend of 50 percent wool and 50 percent Nomex, a meta-aramid made by DuPont. Wool improves the comfort and reduces the cost. TenCate Southern Mills received a million dollar order from the US Army to provide Lenzing FR rayon, for the Defender M program in which a fabric with a camouflage print made from Lenzing FR and para-aramid or polyamide. Lenzing FR may also be paired with wool in another program under evaluation.
A new compression molding compound material combines the light weight, strength, and rigidity of carbon fibers with the flexibility and lower cost of glass materials in a composite compatible with automotive production.
Plastic bearings are real and millions of them are in use doing heavy-duty jobs we used to think only metals could do. Some of Germany-based igus's bearings are traveling around the world as functional parts in a car to demonstrate what they can do.
Baxter showed off his 2.0-derived moves at ATX West this year. The big red guy still looks pretty much the same, but has some new abilities, mostly due to software. The research robot version is now being used in corporate R&D departments as a design platform.
End-production using 3D printing, including objects made of multiple materials in one pass, is getting closer to reality as we saw on the exhibit floor at the recent Pacific Design & Manufacturing Show.